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The Basics of SSI for Special Needs Planning

An individual who is disabled and who has a minimal work record may receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the Social Security Administration.  Because of the modest monthly benefit and strict rules regarding SSI, careful planning for other financial support, whether from individuals or a trust, is essential in preserving and maximizing a recipient’s SSI.

Here are the basics about SSI:

  1. The federal SSI amount for 2021 is $794. Wisconsin also has a state supplement of $83.78.
  2. The asset limit for SSI is $2,000 for countable assets, such as any cash account. In addition to countable assets, an SSI recipient may have certain exempt assets, such as home real estate and a car.
  3. With these strict asset limits, any additional resources are best managed through a special needs trust, which is also an exempt asset if it complies with certain rules.
  4. In addition, distributions from a trust for food and shelter expenses, whether cash or in-kind, will reduce SSI benefits dollar for dollar, with a maximum reduction for in-kind support or maintenance.
  5. In many cases, when a recipient meets eligibility requirements, an ABLE account can be a useful tool–either alone or with a special needs trust–to assist an individual on SSI.

An individual who receives SSI is also eligible to receive Medicaid as health insurance. In Wisconsin, the Medicaid asset limits and exemptions parallel SSI.  In many cases, Medicaid coverage is as valuable or even more valuable to a person with disabilities than cash assistance because out-of-pocket medical expenses or private insurance would be impossible to afford otherwise.

Other programs at the federal, state, and local level, such as HUD Section 8 housing assistance, food assistance, and supportive services, often have income and asset limits. In Wisconsin, each county has an Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) to provide information and application assistance for programs available to individuals with disabilities.

To learn more about SSI, here are several related articles from the Special Needs Alliance: